How to break a trauma bond

Trauma bonding

Trauma bonding is a term used to describe the difficulty that some people may have in leaving an abusive relationship.   It is the idea that a complex psychological bond that forms between an abuser and their victim, making it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship.

Human bonds are often subtle and complex.  The strength of attachment that may occur in an abusive relationship, may make it hard to leave.  However, staying in an abusive relationship is often reinforced by a set of beliefs that keep the victim trapped in the cycle of abuse. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to break a trauma bond and the importance of addressing these beliefs.

Firstly, it’s essential to understand that trauma bonding (staying in an abusive relationship)  is not the victim’s fault. Sometimes what might be perceived as a trauma bond is in fact something different. For example, staying because you are told if you leave you will be killed or your children would be killed can be reasons why people stay in difficult circumstances. Similarly, staying because there is no way to financially support oneself also makes sense. Sometimes the victim of abuse has PTSD or other mental health difficulties due to the abuse. This can further complicate leaving.

The dynamics of the relationship between the victim of abuse and the abuser are important in that an abuser is intentionally manipulating interactions. For example, statements like, “if you didn’t do…then I wouldn’t have” are subtle ways to shift blame for violence.

Breaking the bond or leaving an abusive relationship requires the victim to acknowledge that they are in an abusive relationship and that they deserve better. This can be a difficult step, as the victim may have been conditioned to believe that the abuse is normal or that they are at fault.

Steps to breaking the bond

One crucial step in breaking the trauma bond is to identify and examine the beliefs that keep it in place. These beliefs often include:

  1. Believing that the abuser is the only one who understands and loves them.
  2. Feeling responsible for the abuser’s behavior and emotions.
  3. Believing that leaving the relationship would be worse than staying in it.

These beliefs are often reinforced by the abuser’s manipulation and gaslighting. However, examining  them can help you to recognize that they are not true. Seeking therapy or counseling can be an excellent way to address these beliefs and begin the healing process. Therapies such as  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for PTSD can be helpful.  Research has shown that PTSD is experienced by 51% to 75% of women who are victims of intimate partner violence. The variation depends on the way the PTSD is assessed. The same research also reported that victims of intimate partner violence have significant levels of mild to severe PTSD (55%-92%). Negative beliefs about self and beliefs  about responsibility for abuse are often prominent in PTSD.

Another essential step in leaving an abusive relationship and breaking a trauma bond is to create a safety plan. In fact this is the first step. This plan should include steps to protect yourself physically and emotionally, such as finding a safe place to stay or reaching out to a trusted friend or family member for support. It’s also crucial to seek professional help, as healing from trauma can be a challenging process. There are several support options to help you plan to leave:

1800 RESPECT can help you make a safety plan and provide access to a range of services across Australia

The Orange door provides help and support when things at home or in a relationship are not OK. They can help you make a safety plan. They are based in Victoria

The Queensland Elder Abuse Prevention Unit offers information and support services for people who experience or witness the abuse of an older person.

The following two links are for men, who may have done things that are frightening to their loved ones, and they want to changing there behaviour.

No to Violence offers assistance, information and counselling to help men who use family violence.

Mensline supports men and boys who are dealing with family and relationship difficulties

In conclusion, leaving an abusive relationship and  “breaking a trauma bond” are difficult. It requires acknowledging the abuse, and creating a safety plan. Then examining the beliefs that keep the bond in place. These beliefs that can lead people to return to abusive circumstances can be changed. There are several evidence based therapies that can change these beliefs and the feelings of needing to return, the missing the person, the emptiness.  Remember that you deserve love, respect, and safety in your relationships. Seeking professional help can be a vital step in this process.

If you or someone you know is struggling with having left an abusive relationship and still feeling a bond, we encourage you to reach out for help. The Centre for Clinical Psychology in Melbourne offers a range of therapies to help  individuals who have experienced trauma and abuse. You can book an appointment by calling 03 9077 0122 or online at Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.


Nathanson, A. M., Shorey, R. C., Tirone, V., & Rhatigan, D. L. (2012). The Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in a Community Sample of Female Victims of Intimate Partner Violence. Partner abuse, 3(1), 59–75.